LOS ANGELES -- No matter how many words I write, the adidas Nations camp that took place near L.A. last weekend will be best described by UCLA sophomore Tony Parker after breaking from the group huddle:
"Yo, where the Australians at?"
A grassroots program primarily for the best high school prospects in the country and the world, adidas Nations finds its delightful oddness in adding college players and a few NBA guys as "counselors." A weekend-long event that's closed to the public, you get a mix of about 200 players, 30-or-so NBA scouts, Fran Fraschilla, some other media members, the families of the players and me.
Well, not just me. Knowing I'd be less likely to wake up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning if I had to drive an hour to freaking Garden Grove by myself, I snagged a second credential for a photographer. Except he wasn't so much a photographer as he was my friend Patrick, cohort in basketball nerddom who nevertheless can take pictures.
So Patrick and I arrived at the Next Level Sports Complex earlier than expected. Free food was a negative, so we explored.
Each of the six immaculate courts had a rack of balls at halfcourt. Naturally, we got a few shots up. The balls are almost too perfect, too grippable to the point where you feel bad missing all of your shots ... which I did as busloads of high school prospects walked in on the layup line Patrick and I were engaged in. "Shot's broke," said one keen-eyed high school phenom as I bricked a step-back.
Once things got underway, this was the situation:
- Nine high school teams. Four were from the US -- two from 2014, two from 2015. There were also solo teams from Africa, Australia, Latin America, the Philippines and Russia.
- 30 college players, including ...
- A 5'9 point guard from Puerto Rico running fast break drills with Minnesota Timberwolves assistant and former Portland Trail Blazers great Terry Porter.
- A muscle-y Travis (or David?) Wear working on footwork with Ralph Sampson, who still towers over everyone.
- Everybody's swearing and getting reprimanded by their parents in different languages.
There's something to putting the best prep players in the world in one room with each other and their parents and noting what unfolds. You can see which guys look at their mom after every play and which avoid them entirely. I sat next to the father of UCLA's Kyle Anderson during one of his games, and there was lots of head-shaking after missed shots.
It's an odd dynamic. Some of these kids have been playing basketball forever, some of the African team just picked up a basketball for the first time last year ... and they're all being bunched together on these lists and those lists until their paths cross in the NBA or diverge into oblivion. For me, this camp was just a good time, but for them, this is life. They were at the Nike camp before this or the U-19s in Prague or LeBron's camp or anywhere else. They're bred for this stuff.
And I don't know why, but that doesn't bum me out. Basketball is good. A lot of these guys will make lots of money from it someday, whether that's in the NBA or elsewhere. It's given them a ridiculously large network of people who want to see them succeed. You can see Sampson working the post with Henry Ellenson, a kid from Rice Lake, Wisc. who just got his license and hasn't been flossing well, and realize it's normal.
This is the path these kids and their families have chosen: moving from camp to camp, impressing scouts that are only sort of paying attention, a belly-sweating Fran Frischilla and me. It's the definition of putting all your eggs in one basket.
And at a well-run camp like adidas Nations, it's a hell of a basket. Where the Australians at, indeed.
Some individual observations:
-Jahlil Okafor: The current No. 1 player in the Class of 2014 on Rivals is a massive human. His calves took up half the court. I wouldn't be surprised if his college team decides to play four guys at a time so his calves have more room to get around.
-The two college guys I came away most impressed with were both returning members of the 2012-13 Louisville championship team: Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell. Smith's shot has held him back at Louisville, but with Peyton Siva gone, it seems like he'll get a chance to run the offense full time. Court vision, body control and leadership-wise, I think Russ is an NBA player. Harrell got hurt the day after I saw him, but when I saw him ... ohhhh did I see him. He's put on maybe 10-15 pounds of muscle since the championship game where this happened. As a sophomore, he'll be asked to replace Gorgui Dieng. I think he profiles as a 4 at the next level, but scouts I talked to called him Ben Wallace with more offensive ability. Kid is mean, and crazy fun to watch.
-With half a dozen games going on at once, balls careened all over the place, including one time off my back when I was tweeting. At another point, I tossed a ball back to Daniel Giddens, a Class of 2015 center from Marietta, Ga. He responded with the most terrifying head nod of my life. Kid was born in '97 and he's making me wet myself. Very serious-looking person. Hell of a head-nod.
-Dunking would be really nice. Right? Wouldn't it? Wouldn't it though?
-There was a player on the Latin American team (Kevin Joel Maura Colon), who looks like Ricky Rubio if you cut Ricky Rubio into thirds. It was adorable.
-Lots of prospects that hadn't committed to a school yet talking to other guys rumored to be going to the same school. Do they talk about dining halls? That's what I'd talk about.
-Connecticut's Ryan Boatwright would be really good if he took better shots. Jahii Carson of Arizona State, who basically declared for the draft on Twitter, is the best version of that short, quick, peskily-strong point guard.
-The muscle difference between the high schoolers and college kids even after one year is so obvious. I believe the Freshman 50 applies to basketball players.
-A handful of other 2014 guys who impressed me: Georgetown commit Isaac Copeland, undecided forwards Trey Lyles, Reid Travis, Stanley Johnson and Craig Victor, Louisville commit Shaqquan Aaron and Maryland guard Romelo Trimble.
-Though I'm sure there were more NBA guys there over the weekend, I saw scouts from the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards, Houston Rockets, Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers. I spoke at length with the Sixers scout and wrote about it here.
-Felipe Braga Alfredo, of Brazil, looks distinctly like McLovin. A 6'11 McLovin.
-A great moment: when Russian center Maxim Voytov got beat by Chinanu Onuaku of the 2014 USA team, but recovered for a two-handed block pinned against the backboard.
-Another great moment: After Harrell softened it up, David (or Travis?) Wear knocked down the backboard. Pretty awesome to see it from eight feet away. I was hoping for a shattered backboard, though that probably would've meant getting all sorts of bloody from the glass.
-The single individual I came away most excited about, even though his name was spelled incorrectly in the program: incoming Kansas freshman Wayne Selden. He has the frame of an NBA two-guard already and he's only 18. Tremendously compact handles, excellent jumper, plays within himself, great body control, beautiful eyes ... he really has it all. With Joel Embiid, who also performed well, Andrew Wiggins and Selden, Kansas could have three of the top 10 picks in next year's draft.
College basketball is going to be awesome.
All photos by Patrick Kang/SB Nation.